Dwight Howard shot 75.4% at the rim last season, posting the highest success rate (minimum 4.0 attempts/game) and most Expected Points in the NBA (see chart below). Only Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade attempted more shots at the rim per game last season, albeit all at a less effective rate than Howard.
So much of Howard’s success comes at the rim, whether it’s by getting fed with great position under the basket, catching alley-oops from driving teammates, or converting on attempts after grabbing an offensive rebound. However, he is not very strong in the post when not at the rim. This ineffectiveness is demonstrated by his 44.4 FG% on shots from 3-9 feet, where he attempted 4.5 shots per game last season. In order for the Bobcats to win tonight they’ll need to limit Dwight Howard’s attempts at the rim. In order to limit his attempts at the rim they’ll need to employ the following strategies:
Deny Howard deep position – Granted, easier said than done, but the Bobcats must keep Howard from catching the ball at a point where he can drop-step and attack the rim. Look for more minutes out of Diop tonight, the Bobcats largest body.
Keep Howard off the glass – Howard averages 4.0 Offensive Rebounds per game, which he for the majority parlays into attempts at the rim. If the Bobcats can hold him to less than his average it will go a long way towards limiting his effectiveness.
Stay home on Howard when another player penetrates the lane – Howard is assisted on 55.5% of his conversions at the rim, usually by way of Jameer Nelson or another Magic player lobbing to him after the defense abandons him to help defend the penetration. The Bobcats must do their best to limit penetration into the paint. However, when it does occur Howard’s defender needs to stay at home and pass on the urge to slide over and help.
Use fouls wisely – Howard struggles at the line, having never shot above 60% for an entire season (59.6% last year), so the Bobcats must foul him (and hard) when he gets deep position or comes down with an offensive rebound. By sending him to the line instead of allowing him to attempt a shot at the rim the Bobcats are saving themselves nearly a third of an Expected Point (.316). This may not seem like much, but send Howard to the line 6 times in lieu of taking these attempts at the rim and the Bobcats are better off nearly a basket-worth.
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic are a difficult matchup for the undersized Bobcats, though by limiting Dwight Howard’s touches at the rim they can negate much of this disadvantage. The Bobcats must continue their activity on the defensive boards as well as be willing to play physical with Howard. If they can do all of these things they will have a great opportunity to make up for the one they missed Wednesday night.